Ah, the Tom Collins. Never has such a normal name inspired such joy amongst gin drinkers. The French 75s and White Ladies of the world have elegance on their side, but the Tom Collins, like its namesake, is powered by the sweetness of simplicity.
Despite typically being simply a mixture of gin, lemon juice, sugar and carbonated water, the Collins has a long and rather complex history dating back to the 1800s and a man named John Collins.
Back to the 1860s...
John was head waiter at Limmer’s Old House in Mayfair, and is credited with the creation of his namesake drink as early as the 1860s (though it probably existed in some form for many years earlier). A recipe featured in The Steward And Barkeep’s Manual (1869) specified the use of Old Tom gin, which is considered to be one of the reasons for the change of name.
The Mysterious Tom Collins
The other story behind the name comes from a 1874 hoax, in which people of the United States (New York in particular) would convince others that a mysterious, non-existent ‘Tom Collins’ was talking about them behind their back. Everyone from journalists to composers got in on the popular practical joke and it became well-known around the country. The fact that the cocktail became known as a Tom Collins just years later seems too perfect to be a coincidence.
Jenever vs Old Tom vs Gin
In 1882, the Collins surfaced again, but this time Harry Johnson had separated John and Tom. The John Collins now specifically required Jenever (Dutch gin), while Old Tom gin remained the key component of a Tom Collins. It is often falsely reported that Jerry Thomas penned the Tom Collins name earlier than this, in his 1876 book Bar-Tender’s Guide, but his recipe didn’t actually appear until the second edition of the same book in 1887.
Here, it followed a similar path to Johnson’s recipe, but didn’t specify the need for an Old Tom gin, and instead, recommended sugar syrup to sweeten. This is considered the earliest example of what is considered to be the standard Tom Collins recipe nowadays, and it continued to be reiterated for many years after.
Despite likely coming into existence as an early version of the Tom Collins, a John Collins is now normally a version of the Tom Collins made with whisky.
The rest of the Collins family has also expanded substantially since the end of the nineteenth century. Aunts and uncles have shown their faces via drinks like the Joe Collins (vodka), but we’ve also been introduced to distant cousins like Pedro (white rum) and the military grandparents, Captain (Canadian whisky) and Colonel (bourbon) Collins.
Article by Dan Peeke - https://danpeeke.wordpress.com/